Tips for efficient radiology workflow

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“Radiology departments must identify the beginning and end points of workflow to have efficient and accurate workflow,” explained Charles Socia, vice president of operations for AMI during the SCAR 2006 Imaging Informatics Administration session focused on workflow yesterday in Austin, Texas.
Key players in the workflow process include the scheduler, technologist, radiologist, transcriptionist, referring physicians and billing; and each step in the workflow process — from scheduling, reception to image acquisition to report distribution — must occur before an imaging center or hospital is paid.
Workflow begins with a scheduler, who typically has no more than a high school education and a limited understanding of medical terminology. Yet 90 percent of database information is acquired at scheduling point. Schedulers must verify data to ensure that the correct procedure is performed. Other scheduling duties include necessary prep and patient history. “Schedulers need an information system to help perform their job. Do not overlook the front end of workflow,” stated Socia.
The next stage is typically reception, where the receptionist ensures that the right patient is imaged at the right time for the right exam for the right reason.
The “guts” of radiology workflow originates with the technologist, who serves as the primary source of information for the radiologist. The tech receives the patient, obtains and verifies medical history and acquires, QCs and transmits images. Techs are trained to acquire optimal images, but the best process to obtain an image does not necessarily correlate with best process to maintain data integrity, so it’s important to build in processes to make sure the tech verifies patient data and transfers additional data such as patient history, said Socia.
“The radiologist is the most expensive component of the workflow process,” explained Socia, “which means the hospital needs him to maximize the number of studies he can read.” The simplest way to maximize the radiologist’s output is to minimize out of chair experiences. “The radiologist’s tools — the telephone, dictation equipment, decision support tools, images and patient-specific information — should be in one, easily reached location.”
Images are a side item for the referring physician. Hospitals can optimize referring physician workflow by deploying a portal that allows them to view images from the same interface as the rest of patient’s clinical information. An added bonus to this approach is that it boosts PACS buy-in among referring physicians, said Socia.  
Socia concluded with a few points for audience members to consider. “Workflow consists of multiple small pieces. Small changes in one area can greatly impact other areas.”